Six Degrees of Intimidation

There are people out there who set a course for their life early on, keep their sights fixed on that goal, and never waiver.  My husband, Kevin, is one of those freakishly focused people.  He knew the answer to the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” when he was in the third grade.  I think that fact bears repeating – THE THIRD GRADE.

When all the other little 9 year-old boys were dreaming about becoming astronauts, magicians and professional baseball players, Kevin knew he would grow up to be a math teacher and from that point on he pursued his studies like a demon.  He landed his dream job when he was 22 years-old, and has been happily teaching in the same school district for more than half his life.

Now let’s take a field trip to the other end of the ambition spectrum and visit me….

I wanted to be a Harlem Globetrotter in the fifth grade.  I never took into account that I was about 4 ½ feet tall and had the athletic ability of the Pillsbury doughboy.

I wanted to be an Olympic gymnast like Mary Lou Retton in the sixth grade.  Still not paying too much attention to my athletic ability, but at least my height would no longer be an issue.  And I could do a mean summersault.

I wanted to be a veterinarian during my middle school years.  Although I was a C student in school, I thought my love of all things fuzzy and cute would surely make up for my lack of academic acumen.  I really just wanted to play with puppies and kittens all day long.

In high school I took my love of animals one step further and decided I was going to save the planet…. maybe not single-handedly, but I was going to lead the charge against animal cruelty.  I wanted to join up with Greenpeace and become a marine biologist.  Save the whales!!

I wasn’t really allergic to water…. just dying.

In my second year of college, I came up against a harsh reality – in order to save the whales, I would first have to sit through a lot of REALLY boring science classes.  I spent an entire semester in a class called phycology.  Do you know that that is?  You shouldn’t.  I sure as hell didn’t.  Phycology is the study of algae.  And as titillating as algae can be, I nearly fashioned a noose out of seaweed by the end of that semester, unsure of whether I wanted to hang my professor or myself with the slimy green rope.

I suffered through those science classes for nearly two years, barely scraping by academically.  After my first organic chemistry class, I decided enough was enough – the whales were going to have to suck it up and save themselves.  I marched myself up to my academic advisor’s office, changed my major to psychology, and never looked back.  Save the psychotics!!

No one told me that without a Masters degree or a PhD, my BA in psychology was about as useful as the decoder ring found at the bottom of a box of Cracker Jacks.  So I worked on the outskirts of the psychology field for a few years, and then did what any sane person with no goals or ambitions would do – I had kids and became a stay-at-home mom (cue PTA mom hate mail…… NOW).

Don’t get me wrong, I love being a mom and gain a lot of satisfaction from molding my kids’ young (thanks to me, probably also warped) minds.  But my cup-of-joy was far from running over.  It needed a little something extra, but what would make me happy?  Normally I would say a shot of tequila, but I didn’t think that was going to work this time.  Though I did give that option a try.  Repeatedly.

I like my cup-of-joy with salt and a little lime.

There was one thing that always made me happy – writing.  Even though I had many pursuits in my life, writing was my only true passion.  I wrote it off as a hobby for years because I thought I had about as much chance of becoming a professional writer as I did of becoming a ballerina…. and that wasn’t going to happen because I look completely ridiculous in a tutu.

In the past, I pacified my writing bug by keeping a diary, writing insanely long emails, and composing clever facebook status updates; all the while telling myself that I didn’t have the self-discipline and perseverance to sit down and write everyday.  What a dumbass.

But the older I got, the more my dream of becoming a professional writer kept needling me.  There was one serious problem I couldn’t get past though – in my mind, I wasn’t a real writer.  Between all the professional writers of the world and me, there seemed to be six degrees of separation intimidation:

  1. Real writers get their degree in English literature from ivy-league colleges.  I already told you about my Cracker Jack prize college degree…. what I didn’t tell you was that I got my degree in psychology because I wanted to get school credit for learning about serial killers.
  1. Real writers can dissect novels to find the deeper meaning behind the plot and characters.  The only thing I ever dissected was a frog in the sixth grade.  I don’t think there was any deeper meaning behind it.
  1. Real writers publish articles in influential magazines like Time and The New Yorker.  I don’t even read the articles in those magazines because they make my brain sweat.
  1. Real writers make millions of dollars writing boatloads of best-selling novels.  I wrote two half-finished novels then quit because I realized I have the attention span of a squirrel.
  1. Real writers count William Shakespeare, Walt Whitman, and Charles Dickens among their favorite authors.  I thought Stephen King was the only author out there until I got a job at a bookstore at age 27 and learned otherwise.
  1. Real writers live in trendy cities, wear trendy clothes, and eat trendy foods.  I live in the boring suburbs, wear boring “mom jeans”, and eat the same boring food I did when I was 10 years-old.  Sushi makes me want to gag.

I thought I was screwed because I had nothing even remotely resembling the qualifications of a real writer.  And without them, I was sure I would end up one of those sad, middle-aged people flipping burgers over at the local McDonald’s just so my husband and I could afford to put our kids through college (cue McDonald’s employee hate mail…. NOW).


Did somebody order the McBitchslap?

Then six months ago, I had a WTF moment – which is kind of like a light bulb moment, but feels more like a kick in the ass than an epiphany.  My thirties were coming to a rapid close, and before I hit the big 4-O next year, I wanted to stop all the dumbassery (Urban Dictionary says that’s a word), and start running down my dream.

A little inspirational Tom Petty moment for you.

I knew enough about myself not to attempt writing the great American novel, so I started a blog instead.  I’ll never forget the very first comment made by a total stranger– I squealed like a 10 year-old girl at a Justin Bieber concert and then danced around my living room.  Real writers probably didn’t do that either, but I couldn’t help myself.  It was a high unlike any other…. except maybe that one night of experimentation back in college, but that’s a story for another blog entry.

I didn’t think that high could ever be topped – until I got Freshly Pressed two months after starting my blog.  When I realized what had happened, I cried like I had won an Academy Award.  I gained 200 followers in one week, and I wasn’t even related to most of them!

But despite the outpouring of positive feedback from my readers, those six degrees of intimidation still haunted me and made me feel like my success was a fluke.  I reasoned that someone on WordPress must have gotten drunk and made a clerical error when they picked me.  It would definitely never happen again.

Then it did.

When I saw my blog on the Freshly Pressed page for the second time in six months, two things happened:  First, I nearly peed my pants…. okay I did pee my pants, but only a little.  Second, I had hundreds of people telling me that I was a good writer and for the first time, I actually believed them – that was a game changer for me.  In that moment, my cup-of-joy was not only running over, I was positively soaked from head to toe (the pee had nothing to do with it).

And I have all of you guys to thank for it.  Thank you SO much for believing in me before I was able to believe in myself.  Your words of praise and encouragement mean more to me than I could ever express in words.  Remember, I didn’t get my degree in English literature (like a real writer), so my vocabulary is really limited.  This picture kind of sums it up….

This was how I felt, but a little less Shawshank Redemptiony.

I came to a conclusion that day.

Even if I never get paid a dime.

Even if I never publish a best-selling novel.

Even if I never figure out what the hell William Shakespeare is talking about.

I am now, and will always be, A REAL WRITER.

71 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Intimidation

  1. My FB comment back to friends who congratulated me on trying this whole “blogging” thing, was “does this mean I finally achieved my dream of being a writer …. lol”.

    Love your posts … a lot of times you manage to articulate exactly what I am thinking or feeling. BTW .. .my daughter is following the same career choice path you did. She’s gone from ballerina, to veterinarian, to marine biologist to a mountain guide taking climbers up Everest. I plan on living vicariously through her as whatever she does, it is bound to be interesting.

    • The more I do this blogging thing, the more I’ve come to realize that yes, you CAN call yourself a writer…. though most of us are writing for love rather than for money. But I can’t wait for the day I get to sell out and cash in on my talent 🙂

      There was a line from a movie (Sister Act 2) that always stuck with me. Whoopi Goldberg was trying to convince one of her students that she was a singer. She said, “If all you do when you wake up in the morning is think about singing, then you’re a singer.” I say the same thing holds true for us – all I ever do is think about how I’m going to use my thoughts and experiences as fodder for this blog. I love the whole process of transforming those intangibles into a story for people to read. And the “high” I get every time I click the “publish” button lets me know I’m doing exactly what I was born to do.

      As for you daughter, all I can say is WOW. She sounds like an amazing woman with a lot of tales to tell – the selfish writer in me says “use her for all she’s worth!” I’m sure some of her expeditions would make unbelievable stories. I mean, lots of people say that they’re going to climb Mt. Everest someday, but how many people ACTUALLY do it? Awesome!

      • This is the kind of comment that makes me rush to my computer everyday – inspiration, tears of joy, etc. It’s better than watching a chick flick! 🙂

        So now that you know it CAN be done, go out there and DO it!!

  2. You’re a freakin’ awesome writer. I read this and thought – OH MY GOD WE HAVE THE SAME STORY! I, too, struggled with “What Do I Want To Be When I Grow Up?” The only answer I had was “Taller” – So I did what most people that don’t have that answer does, I went to grad school to be a librarian (which I love). We tend to never know what we want to be. But I loved this post and I hope to make it on the freshly pressed site one day. I’m obsessed with statistics – I hope to have 200 followers… And I’m delighted that someone else that lacks discipline and ‘goals’ and ‘ambition’ is such a great success!

    • Thanks so much! That was one of the reasons I wrote this blog post – I knew there would be a lot of writers out there who would see themselves in my story. I tend to shy away from “life story” posts only because I think most people are thinking, “Who gives a shit?” when they read them. If it’s too personal, then I think it becomes something people can’t relate to. I’m glad that wasn’t the case…. at least with you 🙂

      As for the whole “freshly pressed” thing, I have no real sage advice. I can only pass on some of the tips I gathered off the internet (when I googled “how the hell do I get freshly pressed??”): 1. Have a catchy title that makes people want to delve into the story. 2. Use original artwork (pictures, drawings, etc.) – I don’t always do this one because google provides some stellar pics that I either couldn’t improve on or don’t have the time to try and replicate. 3. Make sure there’s no typos/grammatical mistakes. 4. Cross your fingers and pray to whatever deity you happen to believe in because I think there is a lot of luck involved. 🙂

      • Thanks – I’m keeping my fingers crossed. Snappy art work is not forte – but I’m a fiend with a snipping tool.

        I was wondering about the personal story b/c I am a story teller and I posted one that as really specific about me and some of the people around me and I thought “meh – others won’t find it interesting unless they know us” but it was intersting that people LIKED that post. One never knows. Keep writing – I love reading your stuff.

        • I think if the writing is genuine and is born out of honest emotions (whatever those emotions are), the reader will respond positively to it. There was a blogger who did a story about his aunt, and before I read it, I could feel myself thinking “who gives a shit about your aunt?” But he pulled me in, hook, line and sinker, and before I knew it, I DID give a shit about his aunt!

          • I have to agree 100% ~ I’m torn btwn am I writing for me or to have my stuff read? Or b/c I’m obsessed with stats… probably some of each.

            I have noticed there are a couple of bloggers that instantly “like” my post but I don’t see a stat for a view and I’m curious about what’s happening there…
            Anyway – thanks for chatting with me. I’m honored! You get so many comments it must be exhausting.

  3. What a great post. I think every writer feels those intimidations, even if they did do an English degree. But, at least for me, that fear is what motivates me to keep trying. If at any point I ever feel comfortable calling myself a ‘real writer’, I bet that’ll be the same point at which I put down my pen and look for something else to make me feel uneasy!

    Congratulations on your achievements this far. I have no doubt there will be more to come. 🙂

    • Fear can be a good motivator, but I usually only like to use it when I’m being chased by grizzly bears or when my house is on fire. 😉 Though I did experience a lot of fear when I initially posted my stories online because I didn’t know how they would be received by the general public. Up until six months ago, the only people who had ever read my stories were friends and family. Them telling me I was a good writer didn’t mean much – they are CRAZY biased.

      But now that I’ve built up some confidence in my writing, I find that passion and joy have been my chief motivators for this blog – mixed together, they form a highly addictive cocktail that I can’t seem to get enough of. Sure beats margaritas! 🙂

  4. Isn’t it great that you don’t have to find your self in 3rd grade? Some people do, and that’s wonderful. Some people don’t find themselves until much later! Congrats on finding what you love best to do. It will be part of you for the rest of your life. Congrats, and keep writing!

    • Thanks, Les! While it’s great to have finally acknowledged and placed value on my dream of becoming a writer, part of me can’t help but mourn all the time I wasted trying to bury it. I’m trying not to look at it as failure, only feedback 🙂

  5. If you weren’t a “real writer” why do I stalk your blog waiting for every new post that comes out? Come on Honey, believe it! You’re a VERY REAL writer and you keep me in stitches laughing.

    • Thanks, Noreen! I have dreams of a wealthy publicist stumbling upon my blog and offering me a book deal…. but I also have dreams of having a torrid love affair with Channing Tatum – don’t think either one is actually going to happen 😉

  6. A kindred spirit! I’m in the same boat that I don’t think I could make it as a professional writer- tried writing a novel when I was in middle school but failed because I was no good at endings 😛 I just got started blogging and even though I have an audience of about 5 it still makes me happy that I get to write again. Great post!

    • I was never any good at endings either. I got bored following the same story line for months, and had no interest in seeing how it all ended – made me want to kill somebody off just to change things up a bit 🙂

      Aren’t blog posts a whole lot less intimidating than writing an entire NOVEL? Writers like Erma Bombeck, David Sedaris, and the lovely Bloggess Jenny Lawson give me hope that I never have to write a full-length novel in order to get published. A book of short stories is just as marketable for the masses.

      Don’t get hung up on your follower numbers – I had 12 followers for the first two months (and I was related to all of them). Write for yourself, and the readers will eventually come. Or you can do what I did – beg all your facebook friends to read your blog. I think my friends were psyched when I got freshly pressed just because it meant I would stop hounding them.

  7. I was probably in the third or fourth grade when I wrote my first story on a set of index cards. I wanted to be a writer, but the FEAR stopped me, and I ended up taking business management (see, no English literature degree for me, either) in college. I piddled around with writing in my teenage years, but did nothing with it. It wasn’t until about five years ago that another aspiring writer (one who is very popular now) encouraged me to pursue this.

    We all write for different reasons…love of the craft, monetary gain, stress relief, or all of the above. But whatever your reasons are, YAY for you for calling yourself a writer. It doesn’t have to be books. It CAN be a blog or something similar. You’re still a writer. And I’m glad I found your blog a while back, because you’re very good at writing it. 🙂

    • Thanks so much, Laura! I’m glad you took the plunge too. Good for your friend for pushing you into the deep end (not sure why I’m using swimming metaphors) 🙂

      Maybe it’s because I’m heading into my moldy oldies next year and have adopted kind of a “what the hell” attitude, but I’ve gotten to the point where I won’t allow fear dictate my actions anymore. What scares me more than putting myself out there is looking back 20 or 30 years from now and realizing that I never tried. Regret sucks more than failure. Unless we’re talking about jumping out of an airplane with a parachute that malfunctions… then failure definitely sucks more.

    • Thanks! I think I probably have been, but fear of failure never allowed me to admit it. Guess that’s one good thing about getting older – I don’t care anymore! 🙂 I’m letting it ALL hang out and letting the chips fall where they may….

  8. When I discovered your blog on freshly pressed I went trawling through your archive of posts glued to each one. As a new blogger I was captivated and had found myself more interested in a total strangers happenings than I thought was possible. You write better than some published authors I’ve read, I’m so happy for you that blogging has brought you such happiness and increased self belief. Keep pumping them out and I’ll keep gobbling them up. 🙂

  9. Your writing is clean, comprehensible, and highly witty. Screw big words, you don’t need them. My boyfriend, another “freakishly focused person”, is an editor, and he would say the same thing. AND, he’s read a lot of Stephen King novels. Stephen King said, “Any word you have to look hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule.”

    • Thanks! I tend to agree about the use of “big” words. I think they detract from the kind of writing I do – if someone has to look up a word, it kills the momentum of the story and probably any humor they would have found in it. There is a time and a place for eloquent writing, but this sure as hell ain’t it 🙂

  10. There’s nothing quite like that first comment or like on your new blog is there! Mine is still in its infancy but its such a great creative outlet. Congratulations on not one but two freshed pressed entries!
    And remember, its not an English degree that makes a writer (altho i do have one of those, so nah nah ne-nah nah) – i have worked with journalists who have degrees yet couldn’t string a coherent sentence together to save their lives. Passion is where its all at.

    • “And remember, its not an English degree that makes a writer (altho i do have one of those, so nah nah ne-nah nah) ….”

      LOL! That was awesome. I’ll go back to feeling inferior now….

  11. It’s kind of funny how everyone else knew you were a born writer except you. I started actually reading Facebook stuff just so I could read your comments. They gave me some really good laughs. You’re the best so just keep it up.

    • Thanks, Aunt Sandy. I know you were one of the people who believed in me from the beginning – that always meant a lot to me. When I become a famous writer, I promise not to forget about the faithful followers who got me there 🙂

  12. First and foremost, I want you to know that this blog post made me tingle. Goose fleshy, tickles-up-your-spine tingle. 🙂

    In one way I’m like your husband…I knew what I wanted to be when I was very young. It was the third grade when I wrote a short story for my English class and decided, without a shadow of doubt in my mind, that I wanted to be a writer. Unfortunately I didn’t have the same drive as your husband. Almost twenty years and several student loans later, I’m an Instrumentation Journeywoman working out in the Alberta oil sands. Wtf happened?

    But I do still want to be a writer (no shadows of doubt have been obtained) and recently I finished my first real manuscript, which made me feel more like a REAL writer than I ever have in my life. Knowing that I can make it at least that far makes me believe that I can go farther, and reading posts like this from fellow writers amplifies that belief and gives me hope for my desires to write for a living.

    So what I’m saying is, thanks for sharing. You’ve set my writer’s heart ablaze for another day. 🙂

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed my story – I thought only Stephen King could give people goosebumps and spine-tingles 🙂

      Congrats on finishing your manuscript! That is a HUGE accomplishment! Some writers (myself included) never get that far. Now, throw it out there and see if you can give it wings – I’ll keep my fingers (toes, eyes, etc.) crossed for you.

      • Goosebumps and spine-tingles aren’t just for creepy stuff, you know! 😀

        Thanks for the encouragement! I’m definitely going to need as many crossed fingers and toes as possible to get this thing edited and fluttering out of the nest! lol

  13. You truly are an amazing writer, and I say ‘writer’ without hesitation. There are no defining features of a writer. It comes from the soul; an inherent part of us itches to scribble on paper or tap out a tale on those worn keys. Lack of direction? I feel your conflict. I might be only 22, but I’ve just slogged through a five year law degree (one semester to go) with the recent painful realisation that I would probably rather not be a lawyer. I just want to write. And save the world. Don’t we all? Keep writing, and remember to live laugh love xox

    • Wow, law school? That’s impressive! Even if you decide to pursue writing, at least that degree gives you something cushy to fall back on…. unlike my Cracker Jack psych degree. Ultimately, you have to do what you love. But there are people out there who are lucky enough to have it all – there is a blog that I follow by a writer named Mark Kaplowitz He is a lawyer and a writer (and successful at both). I don’t think I have that kind of energy, but you might 🙂

  14. You know why you’re a good writer? Because you’re FUNNY. People like funny, particularly people like me.

    It would honor me if you could read a little of my blog as well- I’m not nearly as dedicated, but I feel some parallels with your reasons for starting the blog. I’m a therapist-went the social work route in college and someone was kind enough to tell me to go get a master’s as well- and now that I’m a late-twenties work-a-holic, I need to write about some of the crazy shit that happens day to day before I either 1. go crazy, or 2. burn out.

    I have these dreams of dodging ethical no-no’s and writing a book about my work adventures, so that’s why I started “Therapyspotter”…to record. But I have probably 1 follower, and she’s my writer-best-friend so she doesn’t count.

    Thanks for sharing your antics-you truly are a terrific writer 🙂

    • Thanks so much! I love the reactions I get out of people – picturing people laughing at my stories thrills me. It’s like I’m a stand-up comic that never had the guts to get up on stage 🙂

      I never know how my stories are going to be received because my husband is the only person who reads them before I post them online – and he never laughs at anything! It’s SO frustrating! When I ask him if he thought anything was funny he’ll say something like, “Well, this part almost made me laugh.” Thanks, for the confidence booster, Honey.

      I bet as a social worker, you’ve got TONS of writing material at your fingertips! And the bonus is that writing about your experiences doubles as therapy for yourself too. I always found that I felt so much better after I wrote down the things that were swirling around in my head – especially if those things were traumatic or stressful in some way. Not all my writing is funny. The funny stories are the ones I choose to share with the general public because I think they are easier to digest, and people seem to love the escape it provides.

      I will definitely check out your blog posts – it will bring me back to my former psych days. Nice to see someone put their degree to good use! 🙂

      • wrote a new post, finally, and I’d love your feedback on my feeble attempts to make seriousness more humorous. Thanks again! Blog on 🙂

    • I don’t think I would have made it as a Globetrotter – I could never get the basketball to spin on the tip of my finger…. and I think hearing the song “Sweet Georgia Brown” game after game would have driven me to insanity 🙂

  15. McBitch Slap. Thanks, I needed that one. I’m in much the same boat (though my master’s does have an English emphasis, so I guess I have an English degree . . . which is worth about the same as that decoder ring). Keep with the writing. You’re a fun read during the week. 🙂

    • I SO wish I could take credit for the McBitchslap comment. I googled “angry McDonald’s worker” (as research for my blog entry – how great is writing?! I love that I get to google crazy stuff like that and pass it off as part of my creative process!), and that image came up with the McBitchslap title on it. It cracked me up – had to add it to the entry. You wouldn’t believe some of the images I find – there are some CRAZY people out there in cyberspace!

      Thanks for reading my blog again – I think you’ve been around long enough now that I can call you “one of my regulars” 🙂

    • You liked it so much you had to comment TWICE! Who-hoo!!

      P.S. – The Dorothy reference got me all misty-eyed… I’m such a sap. There’s no place like blog, there’s no place like blog…..

  16. There are so many blog posts that capture my interest only to lose me after about the second or third sentence. Your writing on the other hand lures me in and I happily read every word till the end. It is a combination of insight and humor that I really enjoy. In my humble opinion you are absolutely a writer!

    • Anna –

      One of my biggest concerns with an entry like this one is that there isn’t enough of a “hook” to make people want to read the whole thing… if you haven’t noticed, I tend to write REALLY long blog posts 🙂 And I know that once an entry goes over the 1,000 word mark most people won’t even begin to read it, much less finish it. But I’m happy to know that you found it interesting enough to see it through to the end – Thanks!!

  17. After I published my second or third medical article (also without a real degree), I was pretty happy…even though I got paid in subscriptions. When I published an article in 2010 about my 70 year-old Mother and me going ocean kayaking I went “big-time” and got paid with a hat with the magazines logo on it. I still like the hat best.

    • LOL – well, you’re one up on me. I got an article published in a local rag (the ones that you go directly from your mailbox to your garbage can). And I didn’t even get a paper clip out of that deal. I have to be jealous of your hat….

    • Thanks!! Do I need to make an acceptance speech? Put on a glittery gown and saunter down the wordpress red carpet?

      I’d like to thank all the bloggers that made this award possible…. and all the voices in my head that told me what to write. Without all of you, none of this would have been possible.

  18. My husband and I were just talking yesterday about how our life has changed so completely in the last two years. Reading your post made me realize it is still my life and I can make it what I want to be.

    • I firmly believe that right up until they pull the dirt in on top of us, we have time to make our life anything we want it to be. I’ve semi-wasted 40 good years not chasing down my dream, I sure as hell don’t plan on wasting another 40!

      Good luck in following your heart’s desire…. report back along the way. If my dream doesn’t work out, I’d like to live vicariously through yours 🙂

  19. Is it fair to say, Linda, that you always liked to write and social media like WordPress provided you a platform to find your voice?

    It is extremely fortunate to find one’s calling. Many of your readers and followers appreciate it too.

    • I’ll always be grateful to WordPress for giving me a space to express myself. It gives me the freedom to create, and the pleasure of getting wonderful feedback from my readers. I’ve met so many great people on here, and when I log on, it feels like home.

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